Aquino vows due process in pork scam cases
MANILA, Philippines – On Philippine Independence Day, President Benigno Aquino III drew parallels to the anger of Filipinos about the injustice they suffered during Spanish rule to public furor over the misuse of public funds and said lessons learned from the past will ensure justice this time around.
Speaking at the commemoration of the 116th Philippine Independence Day rites in Naga City on Thursday, June 12, the President also urged Filipinos to vote wisely in the 2016 elections, to ensure that the sacrifices of the nation's forefathers would not go to waste.
Aquino said the discrimination experienced by Filipinos during Spanish colonization emphasized the need to follow a fair process in serving justice for all – including those accused of pocketing development funds or their "pork barrel" in the biggest corruption scandal in recent Philippine history.
The President led the Independence Day celebration in Naga City to commemorate the Quince Martires – the 15 martyrs from Bicol whose deaths contributed to the freedom of Camarines Sur from colonizers.
He said the fate of the 15 caused frustration among Bicolanos and Filipinos who believed they were not treated justly.
"Even if the allegations were true – that they were Katipuneros – can we call the mockery of due process and human rights done to the 15 martyrs justice?," Aquino said.
He added: "It is important to reflect on our history, especially now that we are treading the path towards reform and justice. We are all well aware of what is happening at present: Several prominent personalities have been charged by the Ombudsman on the issue of the plunder of the PDAF. Their response to the accusation: We are being singled out for political reasons."
Aquino then pointed out that the news about the scam first surfaced in early 2013 but the charges have only been filed now because the government "followed the correct process: an investigation was initiated; evidence was and continues to be collected, which ultimately led to the filing of cases."
"We could have rushed this from the onset, bringing to court accusations without sufficient proof—if our intention was to simply damage the reputation of the candidates accused. However, as you have witnessed, we chose to pursue the truth by using the proper system," he said.
"And now, after all that we have done, we are the ones being called out for politicking? I leave it to you now to choose who is telling the truth."
The President also said his family's personal experience makes him value due process all the more, since his father, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr, was not accorded that right.
The older Aquino was a critic of the regime of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and during the imposition of Martial Law was accused, arrested and imprisoned on charges of murder, among others.
"In short, Mr. Marcos was accuser, judge, and executor. Without doubt: the rod of justice was bended," the President said.
He said his family’s legacy taught him "the importance of fighting for equality to break the cycle of vicious injustice."
"Now that I am in a position to apply these principles, I will continue to do everything in my power to proffer justice not to a select few, but to the entire nation," Aquino said.
Three senators – Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla – have been charged with plunder by the Ombudsman before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan for allegedly conniving with businesswoman Janet Lim Napoles to channel their development funds to her bogus non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in exchange for hefty kickbacks.
The lawmakers have maintained their innocence, decried the accusations and argued they have not been extended due process.
Aquino said that just as the nation's forefathers worked together to fight for the Philippine freedom, national unity in the fight against corruption today will yield results.
"Ending corruption and the abuse of the system anywhere in the Philippines – whether in the local or national level – will create stronger institutions that will better serve every Filipino," he said.
Linking past struggles of Filipinos to the present, Aquino then reminded the people to vote wisely in 2016 when he steps down from office "in order to ensure what our ancestors have sacrificed will not be wasted."
"Two years from now, we will once again choose our country’s leaders. The challenge for us is to elect candidates who can fight for the welfare of every citizen in the face of any kind of adversity," he said.
In an apparent jab at some reputed aspirants for higher office in 2016, he said: "We do not need those whose words are merely dictated by scripts, nor do we need talented dancers or fantastic singers. Instead, it is our duty to create a Philippines more just and prosperous than that which we have come to know."
Among those reportedly seeking higher office in 2016 are Senators Estrada and Revilla, both actors. The President made the comment a few days after Revilla sang as part of his privilege speech in defense of his innocence in allegations of corruption.
He also asked the public to use as inspiration the Filipino heroes who fought for the country's independence over a century ago, in carving the "straight and narrow path" of the administration.
The allusion to the elections was made in the presence of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas who was at the celebration with the President. Roxas is believed to be the ruling Liberal Party's standard bearer for the 2016 polls, although no formal announcement has yet been made. – Rappler.com